Consumer equipment

Introduction to Universal Design of Consumer Equipment

The Universal Design of television equipment requires attention to all the aspects that are usually covered in the design process:

  • Hardware.
  • Connectivity and set-up.
  • On-screen interfaces.
  • Remote controls.
  • Documentation and consumer

If an appropriate Universal Design process is adopted, maximising the universal appeal, usability and accessibility of the equipment does not necessarily involve a lot of extra work or slow down the development process. For maximum production efficiency, universal design considerations should be addressed from the start of the design and development process. The quality of ‘inclusivity’ can then be treated as an intrinsic characteristic of the design, rather than a later addition to it. This is similar to the way safety is addressed during the design of consumer products. Making a product without considering safety and then attempting to fix the problems by modifying the finished design would be very inefficient. Similarly, trying to ‘bolt on’ accessibility features, for example, as additional features to an otherwise inaccessible design can be difficult and expensive. It is better to take a universal approach throughout the design process, ensuring that accessibility and usability is built-in and does not require extra additions to the design.

Technological contexts and control over design

It is recognised that implementing these functional requirements may present different challenges for different technology platforms. The guidelines are equally applicable to television services using different delivery methods, including broadcasts via terrestrial, cable or satellite, IP-based and video-on-demand services. However, in some of these cases, equipment manufactures may find that they do not always have control over all aspects of the user interface. This is becoming more common with the move towards connected TVs that provide access to a range of third party services such as video on demand or social networking, in addition to traditional broadcast services. The equipment’s user interface may in this case act as a container for these services, for which the content and even the specific user interface are defined elsewhere. The TV manufacturer does not therefore have direct control over the universal design of these parts of the overall user interface. In situations like this, it is important for the manufacturer to work with their third party service providers, feeding back customer requirements and specifying relevant universal design requirements wherever possible.

A similar issue occurs for network service providers who supply customers with set top boxes that are designed elsewhere. The network provider has a key role in addressing customers’ needs. They are often much closer to customers than the equipment manufacturer, being the first port of call for their customers’ queries or complaints. The extent of problems that customers have with products may be unknown to the product’s developers. For example, a 2007 survey by the Royal National Institute of Blind People of blind and partially sighted television viewers found that 22% do not find it easy to change the channel and over 26% do not find it easy to put TV programmes on. These are the most basic operations. In stakeholder interviews during the development of these guidelines, one digital television network operator said:

From the product design point of view we see this as good business. Where we’ve seen customer dissatisfaction is when we’ve overcomplicated products.

Network operators can make sure Universal Design requirements are included within technical specifications, tender notices, contracts and service agreements. When usability or accessibility issues are identified they can work with suppliers, feeding back customer requirements.

Widening the appeal of products

In many cases, meeting the universal design guidelines provided in this section does not require extra functionality, just a more inclusive approach to the existing functionality. Many of the features of a universally designed product are not specific to the needs of people with disabilities, but have much wider appeal.

Users and industry alike are convinced that features needed to provide access to people with disabilities are useful for all. Inclusive design, integrating eAccessibility features into mainstream technology and improving interoperability with assistive technologies, is recognised as "good" business practice, in both meanings of the word.

Industry Self-Commitment to Improve the Accessibility of Digital TV Receiving Equipment Sold in the European Union, DIGITALEUROPE, 2007.

Planning for universal design

However, certain access features, such as spoken output, will involve specific additional design and development work. For maximum production efficiency, these should be included within the formal development roadmap and planned for from the start. Providing spoken output is specifically intended to make the equipment fully usable for people with vision impairments. However, even this should not be considered an extra feature that can be bolted on. It must be integrated with the design so that the speech engine can access the information it requires. An illustration of the need for this can be seen in the development of the Sky Talker, a text-to-speech add-on for Sky satellite television receivers in the UK, developed by Sky in the UK in partnership with the Royal National Institute of Blind People. Although it provides some useful functionality for blind customers, it is very limited in what it can read, providing spoken access only to the channel and programme information, but not to the menu system or the full electronic programme guide (EPG). Ideally this should have been built into the system from the start. The menu and EPG information is not in a format that can be easily be turned into speech, so the development of a full talking solution would be far more complex.